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Under new governor, Kansas redoing child welfare grants

February 15, 2019
Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly answers questions during a news conference about state child welfare grants to private nonprofit agencies, Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kansas. Under Kelly, the Department for Children and Families is redoing grants awarded when former Republican Gov. Jeff Colyer was in office. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas has terminated grants to two nonprofit agencies for services for troubled families and plans to renegotiate the grant terms to four agencies for services for foster children, Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly announced Thursday.

The moves made by Kelly’s interim leader at the Department for Children and Families undo key decisions made at DCF under former Republican Gov. Jeff Colyer. The new governor had criticized the grants and the department for forgoing the normal state contracting process.

Kelly’s announcement came a day after The Kansas City Star reported that newly released state documents showed one grant recipient had earned low scores in an internal review and didn’t even apply for $17 million of the work. But Kelly had publicly pressured DCF into putting the grants on hold before she took office last month.

“It was crucial that my administration had the opportunity to review the grants before they moved forward,” Kelly said during a Statehouse news conference. “There were clear flaws and inconsistencies in the grants that were awarded.”

In recent years, the department has faced questions about several high-profile deaths of abused children after DCF was alerted to problems. Until September, some children in state custody slept overnight in foster care contractors’ offices, including a 13-year-old girl who in May was raped in an office .

The grants were awarded to a total of five nonprofit agencies only days before Kelly was elected governor and were to last four years, starting July 1. They committed Kansas to higher spending on services aimed at preserving troubled families and services for abused and neglected children in the state’s foster care system.

Under the grants, the state was set to spend a total of $245 million on foster care services during the budget year beginning July 1. The increase would be $35.5 million, or 17 percent.

The governor said DCF will extend existing contracts for foster care services for another three months, through September, so that it can negotiate the new grants with the four agencies that received them.

Interim DCF Secretary Laura Howard said the department wants to make sure the grants line up with the department’s new focus of working to keep children out of foster care.

Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, an Overland Park Republican, said he’s comfortable with the changes if DCF is getting “a better deal” for taxpayers and its clients while avoiding lawsuits.

“I’m just assuming she’s got those bases covered,” Denning said.

Kelly said DCF will extend existing contracts for family preservation services for another six months, through the end of this year, so that it can take bids using the state’s normal contracting process. The grants had gone to Eckerd Connects, based in Clearwater, Florida, and Cornerstones of Care, based in the Kansas City area.

Cornerstones President and CEO Denise Cross said in a statement that the decision to take new bids for the family preservation grants was “disappointing” because it was planning to provide “trauma-informed care” for children in northeast Kansas.

But Cross added, “We plan to pursue every opportunity to help ensure safe and healthy communities for Kansas’ children.”

Eckerd was to provide family preservation services in the rest of Kansas, 100 of 105 counties, even though it didn’t apply for work in western and central Kansas.

And more than 13,000 pages of records released to The Star this week by Department of Children and Families show that in the other two areas, the agency’s bids and review scores were considerably lower than the agencies the review panel recommended.

Ellen Standlee, operations director for Eckerd’s Kansas programs, said the state has the authority to cancel the grants “for convenience” and “we respect their decision to do so.”

“Eckerd Connects looks forward to continuing to partner with the Department and serve the children and families of Kansas,” Standlee said in a statement.

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Follow John Hanna on Twitter: https://twitter.com/apjdhanna .

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Information from: The Kansas City Star, http://www.kcstar.com

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